THINNING & PLANTING
Now seedlings are popping up in the veg patch the next job is called ‘thinning out’ and involves removing a proportion of the tiny plants. We do this so the remainder have enough room to stretch their leaves and roots without competing with their neighbours. Advice about how much space to afford your charges should be stated on the seed packet. I always keep these envelopes of paper for reference, even when they’re empty.
Most home-growers will thin out in stages. Here’s how I do it:
When a line of seedlings is up and at ‘em I’ll move in to reduce them to a single-file row. Large-seeded types such as radishes and beans are easy because they lend themselves to more accuracy and control when handling in the first place. But with tiny lettuces or carrots, for example, it’s easy to accidentally spill the magic pieces in clumps.
Then, when the leaves are touching, I take out every other one plus obviously weak or deformed specimens. The size of those remaining usually increases rapidly and, as soon as the leaves are merging again, I’ll repeat the exercise. It may take three or four thinning to achieve the desired space between individuals.
Beetroot is interesting. Most seeds are what’s known as ‘multi-germ’. This means that every knobbly piece comprises a cluster of seeds which are stuck together. A multi-germ beet naturally produces a number of shoots. If you want to avoid the hassle of excessive fiddly thinning then look for beets labelled as ‘mono-germ’ instead – they come up singly.
Did I say “hassle”? Forgive me! It’s true that some folk find these husbandry tasks a chore but I reckon thinning is essential. Plants are not unlike people in that they do best with space enough to access plenty of moisture, nutrients, light and air.
When I’m close-up and personal with my beauties I always work from wooden planks. They spread my weight and protect soils from becoming compacted. Soil is your most valuable asset and should be treated with respectful care at all times. Planks are easy to shift as you move around the garden.
Now is about the right time for planting out runner beans. These tender fellows are susceptible to damage by frost but, fingers crossed, by mid-May that threat should have passed.
I’ll be getting pot-raised beans into the good earth this week, at the base of poles for them to twist and climb up. About 20cm between each is fine.
You might pop a seed or two in the soil, 5cm deep, immediately adjacent as insurance against a freezing dip. If you loose the big bean then the strongest of the bean seedlings can be trained to replace it. If all goes well, however, just pinch them out.
Runner beans are not fussy about the standard of your erection. Four poles, lashed together at the top, will suit them perfectly. Runners can grow tall but there’s no point in letting pods swell out of reach. All that happens is the plants produce less lower down because they ’think’ that the job of reproduction has been achieved and cease being youthful. I’d advise allowing them to run only as high as you can safely stretch up to pick.
My mate Lewis, a first-time allotmenteer, planted out his runners over two weeks ago. Either he’ll learn the hard way to be patient or be dining on great platefuls of steaming portions with his young son Tyler and partner Hannah while the rest of us play catch-up!
Copyright, Joe Hashman